It’s Ben­ning’s show, like it or not

CANUCKS: Fans will know soon enough if gen­eral man­ager de­served new con­tract he signed Wed­nes­day

The Province - - SPORTS | HOCKEY - Ed Willes ewil­les@post­media.com twit­ter.com/willeson­sports

As with most things in to­day’s world, your as­sess­ment of Jim Ben­ning’s con­tract ex­ten­sion will be de­ter­mined by what side of Van­cou­ver’s great hockey di­vide you oc­cupy.

If you’re a Ben­ning man, you’re se­cure in the knowl­edge the Canucks have fully em­braced the vi­sion of a sound hockey man, an elite eval­u­a­tor of tal­ent and a master drafter. Over the five decades of this fran­chise’s ex­is­tence, the most preva­lent sto­ry­line has been an in­fu­ri­at­ing in­abil­ity to draft and de­velop young play­ers.

If you be­lieve in Ben­ning, then you be­lieve he gives the Canucks the best chance at fi­nally suc­ceed­ing in this area.

If, how­ever, you take a con­trary view of the Canucks’ GM, you have am­ple rea­son to be­lieve the team just signed up for an ex­tended pe­riod of fu­til­ity.

The stated premise of the Ben­ning-Trevor Lin­den era — stay com­pet­i­tive while in­te­grat­ing new play­ers into the NHL team — has failed in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion. In­valu­able as­sets were squan­dered in pur­suit of this pipe dream. Ab­surd con­tracts were is­sued. There’s also the mat­ter of 28th- and 29th-place fin­ishes to dis­cuss.

If Ben­ning couldn’t get that part right, what makes you think he’ll get the next part right? The plain fact is, given where they were draft­ing, the Canucks should have as­sem­bled a sexy prospects pool. But oc­cu­py­ing the big of­fice is a lit­tle more com­pli­cated than draft­ing in the top-five every year.

So who has the more ac­cu­rate view of Ben­ning? Is he the man to over­see the next phase of the op­er­a­tion, or did the Canucks make a huge mis­take in ex­tend­ing him?

Hate to waf­fle on this, but we’ll know soon enough. In the mean­time, both sides can take com­fort in this: Un­like his much-cel­e­brated draft picks, it won’t take four more years to as­sess Ben­ning’s stated goal to re­build the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

We’ve al­ways main­tained the clock doesn’t start run­ning on the newly imag­ined Canucks un­til 2019-20, which is a re­al­is­tic time frame for the young play­ers to gain some trac­tion.

But there have to be signs be­gin­ning next year that the re­build has started, that this or­ga­ni­za­tion can build a win­ning team around their young play­ers.

North­east­ern star Adam Gaudette will al­most cer­tainly be in the lineup, and if Ben­ning turned a fifthround draft pick into an im­pact player, it changes a lot of things for this or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Goalie Thatcher Demko, who is hav­ing a mon­ster year in Utica, turns 23 next sea­son and his time has come.

Next sea­son will mark the third sea­son since Olli Juolevi was drafted, which is enough time for a fifth-over­all se­lec­tion.

Elias Pet­ters­son is tear­ing up the Swedish elite league and might be ready for the NHL in 2018-19.

Add those play­ers to the Brock Boeser-Bo Hor­vat core and the

Canucks and Ben­ning can boast about their new look and their new di­rec­tion.

Other or­ga­ni­za­tions — Colorado, New Jer­sey — have taken sig­nif­i­cant strides this sea­son by com­mit­ting to young play­ers. The NHL is a young man’s league. The game is now built around speed, more speed and, if that fails, more speed af­ter that. The Canucks have the look of a team that can play that game. If they get the next part right.

Right now, that reg­is­ters as a big if. At Wed­nes­day’s presser, nei­ther Ben­ning nor Lin­den backed off the team’s stated pur­pose of pro­vid­ing a “sta­ble” en­vi­ron­ment for their younger play­ers.

To the faith­ful, that’s code for a blue­print that has led to three straight dis­as­trous reg­u­lar sea­sons, which is why Ben­ning’s ex­ten­sion wasn’t ac­cepted with open arms in

a lot of quar­ters.

“We want to make sure we sup­port the young play­ers so they have some sta­bil­ity around them,” Lin­den said.

“We have to con­tinue to add play­ers to help sup­port our younger play­ers,” Ben­ning said.

Sorry, we’ve seen where that ap­proach has led. Maybe a lit­tle in­sta­bil­ity is what this or­ga­ni­za­tion needs.

Again, there are about 342 vari­ables in the de­vel­op­ment equa­tion — ev­ery­thing from Pet­ters­son’s phys­i­ol­ogy to Juolevi’s readi­ness to Jake Vir­ta­nen’s ma­tu­rity — but it has to start with a com­mit­ment to the young play­ers.

The next ques­tion is, can Ben­ning and Lin­den pull all this to­gether with the pieces they’ve as­sem­bled? Can they build an NHL defence — a chronic Canucks weak­ness and a trou­ble area this sea­son — out of

what they’ve as­sem­bled?

Ben­ning’s sign­ing is a lead­ing in­di­ca­tor the Canucks will re-up Erik Gud­bran­son.

Sorry, we don’t have the time or space to get into that one here.

There are other con­cerns. Are the 20-some­things on the Canucks — and there are a pile of them — ready to take the next step?

While we’re ask­ing ques­tions, what of the Sedins?

Our phone lines are open.

But this is now Ben­ning’s show — or Ben­ning’s and Lin­den’s.

As men­tioned, you can look at their first four years to­gether any num­ber of ways, but one thing is now abun­dantly clear.

They can’t com­plain they haven’t been given enough time to turn around the Canucks.

GERRY KAHRMANN/PNG

Adam Gaudette, left, is one of the Van­cou­ver Canucks prospects ex­pected to be in the lineup at the start of next sea­son, a sea­son in which the fran­chise des­per­ately needs its young play­ers to step up and prove this re­build has been a suc­cess, writes Ed Willes.

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